Next Article in Journal
Without Why: Useless Plants in Daoism and Christianity
Next Article in Special Issue
Symbols and Function of the Zhang Clan Han Army Sacrificial Rite
Previous Article in Journal
Muhammad, the Jews, and the Composition of the Qur’an: Sacred History and Counter-History
Previous Article in Special Issue
Art and Shamanism: From Cave Painting to the White Cube
Article Menu
Issue 1 (January) cover image

Export Article

Open AccessArticle
Religions 2019, 10(1), 64;

Literate Shamanism: The Priests Called Then among the Tày in Guangxi and Northern Vietnam

Department of Ethnology, National Chengchi University, 64 Zhinan Road Section 2, Wenshan District, Taipei 11605, Taiwan
Received: 30 November 2018 / Revised: 8 January 2019 / Accepted: 9 January 2019 / Published: 18 January 2019
Full-Text   |   PDF [7170 KB, uploaded 23 January 2019]


Then is the designation in Vietnamese and Tày given to shamanic practitioners of the Tày ethnicity, who reside mainly in the northern provinces of Vietnam. Scholars are long aware that the predominantly female spirit mediums among the Zhuang in Guangxi, variously called mehmoed or mehgimq, had a ritual repertoire which included shamanic journeys up to the sky as their essential element. The ritual songs of the mehmoed are orally transmitted, unlike the rituals of male religious practitioners in Guangxi such as Taoist priests, Ritual Masters, and mogong, all of which are text-based. One was led rather easily to posit a dichotomy in which male performers had texts, and female performers had repertoires which were orally transmitted. This division also seemed to hold true for certain seasonal song genres, at least in Guangxi. For that matter, shamanic traditions cross-culturally are seen as predominantly or exclusively oral traditions. Recent research among the Tày-speaking communities in northern Vietnam has confounded this tidy picture. Religious practitioners among the Tày include the Pt, who in many cases have texts which incorporate segments of shamanic sky journeys and may be either male or female; and the Then, also both male and female, who have extensive repertoires of shamanic rituals which are performed and transmitted textually. The Then have a performance style that is recognisably based on shamanic journeying, but elaborated as a form of art song, complete with instrumental accompaniment (two- or three-stringed lutes), ritual dances, and flamboyant costumes. Apart from individual performances, there are large-scale rituals conducted by as many as a dozen priests. The present paper gives an overview of the practices and rituals of the Then, based on recent fieldwork in Vietnam and Guangxi, and discusses the implications these have for our conventional understandings of shamanism, literacy, gender, and the cultural geography of the border regions. View Full-Text
Keywords: shamanism; literacy; gender; Tày; performative orality; Vietnam; Guangxi; centre and periphery shamanism; literacy; gender; Tày; performative orality; Vietnam; Guangxi; centre and periphery
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

Share & Cite This Article

MDPI and ACS Style

Holm, D. Literate Shamanism: The Priests Called Then among the Tày in Guangxi and Northern Vietnam. Religions 2019, 10, 64.

Show more citation formats Show less citations formats

Note that from the first issue of 2016, MDPI journals use article numbers instead of page numbers. See further details here.

Related Articles

Article Metrics

Article Access Statistics



[Return to top]
Religions EISSN 2077-1444 Published by MDPI AG, Basel, Switzerland RSS E-Mail Table of Contents Alert Logo copyright Steve Bridenbaugh/UUA
Back to Top